On this day in 1827, the renowned classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven passed away. He spent his life writing music that has captivated listeners, from the stern opening sounds of his Symphony No. 5 to the stirring Für Elise and, perhaps most famously, his Symphony No. 9, which concludes with the famous “Ode to Joy.” Beethoven was gifted with remarkable musical genius, standing as one of the greatest composers of all time. What makes his work all the more remarkable is that for much of his career he suffered from loss of hearing. This disability grew progressively worse throughout his lifetime, until he was completely deaf in the last decade of his life. While we are able to relish in the beauty of Beethoven’s music, it’s troubling to recall that he was unable to hear many of the masterpieces that he created. Surely his mind allowed him to imagine the sound and movement of his music, yet he was not able to sense the full beauty of his work when it was actualized by other musicians.
This can serve as a metaphor for the spiritual life. Oftentimes, it is tempting to seek God and his will for our lives in the “big things”—either by looking for a physical sign or by seeking absolute certainty from him on a spiritual matter. If we can’t grasp God’s working in our lives, we can fall into disappointment, thinking that God has abandoned us. Yet even as Beethoven was unable to hear the full grandeur of his beautiful music, we may be unaware of the presence and power of God’s grace working in our lives in hidden and mysterious ways.
Through his sanctifying grace, which is first given to us at baptism and then again in all the sacraments, God’s very life and presence remain with us in a stable and habitual way. This prepares us to receive actual graces, those particular moments when God showers us with his love and benevolence. Ordinarily, actual graces come through the regular reception of the sacraments. In extraordinary moments, God may give them accompanied by some great sign or wonder. Yet oftentimes God works in in the hidden moments of our lives, moments when we are not aware that he is transforming us. Like the prophet Elijah, who couldn’t find God in a mighty wind, an earthquake, or a great fire, God’s grace moves in our lives in the quiet, hidden moments, such as the “light silent sound” (1 Kings 19:12) in which the Prophet encountered God.
The hidden moments of life in which God quietly fills us with his grace may also be times of trial and difficulty. In these experiences, it may seem that God is not present or that he has abandoned us. While we may not be aware of his presence in times of struggle, God is indeed with us, taking the trials of life and conforming them to the cross of Christ. These trials may seem dismal to us, but in reality God is using them to make a beautiful composition.
Our response must be one of trust. Christ trusted in the will of the Father as he was led to his death. Our Lady trusted in God’s plan when she was called upon to bear the Son, even though she did not know that she would have to witness his brutal death. The martyrs trusted in God when faced with persecution, believing that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Such trust in God’s Providence fills the heart with joy, allowing us to recognize that no trial can overcome the power of God working in our lives.
We believe that God’s grace works in our lives, perhaps in apparent and evident ways, though often in hidden moments or during times of struggle. In heaven, we will come to know how God was working in our lives all along, even if we are unaware of it during this lifetime. Trusting in him, we allow God to use these moments of grace for his purposes. In this, our lives become true songs of joy, offered to the praise and glory of his holy name.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)